24/02/2018 05:32 GMT

Tribal Filipinos Were A Surprising Muse For ‘Black Panther’s’ Dora Milaje

Marvel's blockbuster honored African heritage while also nodding to another native people.

Marvel’s record-breaking film “Black Panther” offered a stunning look into the fictional future of African style, but it also paid homage to another native style ― one further east. 

Anthony Francisco, a senior visual development illustrator for Marvel, told BuzzFeed that the garb worn by some of the Dora Milaje was partially inspired by Filipino tribal artifacts and other Asian themes.

About 80 percent of the costume, however, consisted of African influences, according to’s interview with the illustrator.

The Dora Milaje is the elite, all-female group of the Wakandan special forces.


The Asian inspiration was just natural for Francisco. He grew up in the Philippines and saw African artifacts mixed in with tribal Filipino decor in his relatives’ homes, he told BuzzFeed. He drew inspiration specifically from the Ifugao tribe, a village of people who live at the base of the Cordillera Mountain Range in the north of Luzon island.

The Ifugao people are known for their ancient rice terraces, a UNESCO heritage site built by the ancestors of the tribe in 100 B.C. The American Society of Civil Engineers suggests they were a sustainable watershed management system that was ahead of its time. 

The Ifugao tribe continues to preserve its rich cultural elements, including weaving, beading and traditional narrative chants.

Ifugao translates in English to “people of the Earth,” fitting for the imagery in “Black Panther.” 

Education Images via Getty Images
Ifugao women show their traditional costumes as they stand among rice terraces built by their ancestors and maintained by the tribe.
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An example of an Ifugao beaded hairpiece.
John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images

This tribal inspiration stands out on the uniform of Okoye (played by actress Danai Gurira). 

Francisco told BuzzFeed that the strip of beadwork over the Wakandan general’s abdomen was inspired by a table runner at his aunt’s home. The small golden rings hanging from the tassles at the side of her uniform were meant to be good luck charms, drawing from the superstitious beliefs that circulate in the Philippine Islands.  

Some of the island inspiration can be see on Okoye, Danai Gurira's character on the left.

Marvel’s illustration team didn’t just pull from Filipinos, they also were inspired by Japan’s iconic warrior, the samurai.

Francisco said that the Dora Milaje’s shoes were meant to look like the split-toed boots worn by samurai. These boots, known as jika-tabi, are also worn by workers (farmers, construction workers, etc.) and by traditional Taiko drummers.

Felice Beato via Getty Images

Speaking to the Fashionista, Francisco said 80 percent of the Dora Milaje uniform was inspired by the Maasai in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

The warriors’ arm bands and neck rings were inspired by the women of the South African Ndebele tribe.

The other cultural elements breaks down like this: “Five percent Samurai, five percent ninja, and five percent Ifugao tribe,” he told the fashion blog.

In an Instagram post, Francisco said that working for Marvel and designing the outfits for the Dora Milaje was “a dream job.”

“I wanted to make an impact in our community and make an iconic, fierce woman warrior in [Okoye] that is also funny and loving and loyal,” Francisco wrote.

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